Morag Donkin, Mavisbank II, 2013.
Scottish artist Morag Donkin explores the origins of her layered landscapes with postcardwall’s Sophie Hill.
You say that your compositions are inspired by photographs taken on local walks; do you ever paint from life?
I very rarely paint from life. My research for new paintings often comes from cinematic imagery. Currently, I am working on a series of 3 paintings that has the potential to turn into 5. I am using photographs I have taken in Aviemore, in the Highlands. I like to translate the effects of the photographs into the painting as a way of developing their relationship with film. Often my skies will be very non-descript because they appear whited out in the photographs. I like the stark, severe look it creates. It also makes creating atmosphere a challenge, but I enjoy overcoming that.
Morag Donkin, Tyninghame Woods, 2013.
Is the emptiness of your landscapes, or the omission of any figures, deliberate?
Sometimes figures appear, sometimes not. But I always feel I create a human presence. The viewer brings themselves to the work. I paint images from public walkways quite a lot. I observe the places that have been earmarked as spots of beauty. But for me, that is always contrasted with my own apprehension of these remote places. I personally don’t find forests to be relaxing, but perhaps I am quite a nervous person. My work allows the viewer to become an outside observer of these locations, though sometimes I will include a figure for scale or focus.
Your use of colour is bright and often has a luminous, even lurid, quality; do you see this as a way of unnerving the viewer?
Not unnerving, maybe disorientating the viewer would be more accurate. It takes the imagery away from what is perhaps a correct or ordinary representation. I like to build depth into my work using thin layers of colour, starting often with a free-flowing layer of ink. I love the way ink will bleed into a surface. I can then play with the forms it makes and draw this into an image. Trying different materials and techniques is a huge part of my practice. I have a part-time job at an art shop so I am perhaps more exposed to a greater variety of mediums than other artists.
Morag Donkin, Iceland, 2013.
There is a wonderful sense of movement in many of your paintings; scenes appear almost blurred with its intensity. Where does this movement stem from?
I think this is again due to my layering of colours. The materials have a certain degree of freedom to move naturally within a piece. The way paint reacts on a surface is something I find really interesting, and I like to try and preserve interesting passages of paint in my work.
Your paintings are seeped with a wild sense of untamed countryside; do you think you could paint urban landscapes in the same way?
I have painted a few scenes of Edinburgh while studying at the art college there, with a certain level of success. But I find the way I use paint is far more suited to scenes of foliage and nature. The clean lines of the urban landscape have limited appeal to me, but I would never rule it out completely. Now and again I take a photograph in town that I feel really compelled to paint. Buildings create good narrative.
Morag Donkin, Iceland II, 2013.
Your paintings almost appear to the eye in layers, as each component is built up in strong colour. Do you make work this way, pausing before adding to the canvas?
That is a strong observation on my technique in oil painting. I work with translucent colours so that layers are visible and as a way of not losing too much of the language of the paint below the surface. Oil painting gives you a lot of time to consider each layer. You live with the image in certain states of completion while it dries. It is a very reflective way of working that allows you to connect with the painting as an artist.
Morag Donkin has recently graduated from Edinburgh College of Art with a BA Honours in Painting. Donkin will be exhibiting three new works at The Fleming Collection, London from the end of March as part of the Fleming-Wyfold Award.